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Trump Is a Symptom Not the Disease December 16, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Right Wing, Trump, Uncategorized.
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racism

By Hamid Dabashi

December 11, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “Al Jazeera” –  On the same day that the depth of Donald Trump’s racist bigotry hit a new low bycalling for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States, another news item emerged that was overshadowed by the circus surrounding Trump: Candice Miller, a US Congresswoman, introduced a bill, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015.

If passed, the bill will suddenly cast US citizens of Arab, Iranian, and Muslim descent as second-class citizens in their own country – a “legislation that will effectively create two classes of Americans – Americans with Middle Eastern or Muslim background, and Americans without that background”.

“If you thought Donald Trump’s divisive, bigoted and blatantly racist rhetoric was just a reflection of the silliness we always face during primary campaigns”, as one observer rightly put it, “think again”.

As world attention is focused on Trump’s racist theatrics, the House of Representatives has just passed the bill with an overwhelming vote of 407-19.

Nothing new

In a country where US-Israeli dual citizens go and as mercenary soldiers fight to steal more of Palestine, and their New York Times columnist father publicly brags about that fact, if an American of Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, or Libyan origin as much as sets foot in his country of birth she or he is subject to systemic suspicion and discrimination.

These are not easy days for Muslims who live in the US and the horrid criminal acts in San Bernardino or Paris have very little to do with these developments.

They are just a subterfuge. People like Trump and his ilk did not have to wait for the San Bernardino or Paris attacks to occur for their hatred of Muslims or Arabs to surface. That surfacing is a sign of much deeper troubles.

Trump is a symptom not the disease. He is a decoy, a diversion so outrageous, so disgusting, that it overwhelms and hides the real disease.

Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US, or his earlier remark to single out and profile Muslims, or his fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson stating point blank that no Muslim should ever become president, are only the most obnoxious versions of a much more deeply rooted bigotry and racism against Muslims that has been dominant in the US for a very long time, but particularly since 9/11.

If you are distracted by the noxious symptom of Trump you will forget that the democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton only a few weeks agoprided herself to have the entire Iranian people as her enemy.

Today leading American liberals such as Michael Tomasky, taking their cues from like-minded Islamophobes gathered under the banner of “New Atheists,” unabashedly expose their racism and single out Muslim Americans and order them to prove their peaceful citizenship in the US by declaring to Muslim Americans that “the rights you have as Americans have to be earned, fought for”. Why? By what authority? Who died and made Michael Tomasky the judge and the jury of Muslim Americans peaceful citizenship?

To me this fundamental abrogation of human decency is worse than Trump’s vulgarity. It is a fundamental democratic principal that a citizen is innocent unless proved guilty, that a citizen is entitled to his and her inalienable rights, and need not “earn” it or “fight for it”.

But who has heard of Tomasky, busy as people are denouncing Donald Trump – and yet to me the roots of Trump are precisely in the pretty liberalism of Tomasky and his ilk.

Historic challenge

The threat the Muslims face today in the US is not limited to fascist wannabes like Trump.

The challenge is much deeper and firmly rooted in the political culture of a country that began its history by the mass murder of Native Americans, continued by the systematic slavery of African Americans, and most recently with a stroke of a pen ordered the US population of Japanese descent incarcerated in concentration (internment) camps during World War II.

Today, US Muslims are in serious danger of the same interment camps to which Japanese Americans were subjected to under similar circumstances.

In every generation the task of fighting racism and bigotry shifts from one scapegoat minority to another.

Arabs, South Asians, Iranians are today in the noble company of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Asian Americans, fighting racism and discrimination by one brand of white supremacists or another.

Today, Muslims around the world face not one, but two, dangerous fronts: One internal, the other external.

Internally we are being eaten alive by a gang of murderous mercenary cannibals who have stolen the most sacrosanct insignia of who we are and what we believe in and call themselves “Islamic” one thing or another.

There is no battle more urgent and more noble than this moral and intellectual struggle against the criminal thugs who call themselves the Taliban or al-Qaeda one day, or ISIL and Boko Haram another.

Equally urgent is the external terror visited upon us as we are subject to incessant demonization by the ferocious Islamophobia of the conservative and liberal brands, aided and abetted systematically and financially by Zionist propaganda machinery that wishes to silence the legitimate, non-violent, and dignified critics of their colonial project in Palestine (now best represented in the BDS movement) by frightening us into complacency.

It is not accidental that we learn that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the US “rests on research from the Center for Security Policy, a neo-con think-tank run by Frank Gaffney, who has a long history of pro-Israel advocacy and has been called ‘one of US’ most notorious Islamophobes: by the Southern Poverty Law Center”.

We will have to face these two fronts simultaneously, bravely, consistently and with quiet but determined dignity. Other Americans for generations have fought that battle and continue to do so.

It is now our turn to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The historic task of defending the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights is now squarely on our shoulders too.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

© 2015 Al-Jazeera English

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The Chilling Reason Our Government Wants to Erase These Americans from History July 28, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Racism, Religion, War on Terror.
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Most of those held in Communications Management Units, which imprison people linked to terrorist activity, are Muslims.

July 24, 2014, Molly Crabapple, http://www.alternet.org

Andy Stepanianis one of the kindest humans I have ever met.

An activist publicist, Andy draws attention to Americans imprisoned for their beliefs. He is straitlaced and gentle, and the only time he ever declined to buy me dinner was when I offended his veganism by eating chicken fingers. But Andy is also a felon. As one of the SHAC7, he spent three years locked in a cage for urging people to employ militant protest techniques against the animal-testing corporation Huntingdon Life Sciences. He spent his last six months in prison in a Communications Management Unit (CMU).

CMUs exist to cut off prisoners from the outside world. The prisoners’ every word is recorded. They are strip-searched before and after each visit from loved ones (in case they write messages on their body). Letters are severely restricted; phone calls are limited to two 15-minute calls a week. CMU prisoners may spend decades without hugging their wives or children.

Like Guantanamo Bay, the CMU is a child of the war on terror. In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Bureau of Prisons, under the directorship of Harley Lappin, created two secret units: one in Terre Haute, IN, and the other in Marion, IL. The bureau’s stated purpose was “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” But as at Guantanamo, Muslims were the real targets. Muslims make up roughly 70 percent of the prisoners in CMUs but only 6 percent of the federal prison population. The CMUs are part of a philosophy that makes Muslim synonymous with terrorist, that views “terrorists” as both contagious and superhuman—so dangerous that they must be subject to ultimate control.

Andy was the rare white CMU prisoner. Guards told him he was there as a “balancer.” CMUs are another reflection of the double standard to which the United States holds Muslims. Acts of speech, travel or association that would be A-OK for a Christian are enough to get a Muslim branded a terrorist.

Shifa Sadequee, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

CMU prisoner Shifa Sadequee was kidnapped by U.S. forces in Bangladesh at the age of 19, allegedly tortured and rendered to the United States. He spent three years in solitary awaiting his trial for terrorism. His crimes? He played paintball and took video footage of U.S. monuments. The former activity was labeled “paramilitary training”; the latter, “casing videos” for an attack. The judge sentenced him to 17 years.

Pharmacist Tarek Mehanna should be called a dissident—but that’s not a label America allows Muslims. A scathing critic of U.S. foreign policy, Mehanna believed Muslims under attack in their own countries had the right to armed self-defense. He translated and subtitled some jihadi materials and briefly traveled to Yemen. Nothing he did would have been looked at askance if he were a Tea Party member speaking about fellow gun enthusiasts. But as a Muslim Mehanna was convicted of material support for terrorism. His sentence? Seventeen years.

At his sentencing, Mehanna delivered a chilling, eloquent statement about resisting oppression: “In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for ‘conspiring to kill and maim’ in those countries…

“The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ‘killing Americans.’ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”

Tarek Mehanna, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

Mehanna is in a CMU for speech. Few American free speech defenders noticed.

While most Americans were rightly nauseated by the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, they gave less thought to the brutal surveillance that Muslim communities have suffered since 9/11. Mosques, student associations and even restaurants were monitored throughout the country. Informants tried to rope the naive or the mentally ill into expressing support for jihad. If an agent was able to pressure an unstable young man into driving a car or buying some backpacks, he could arrest him for assisting terrorism. The agent would receive professional accolades for making the arrest; the young man, decades in jail. For the untold cash it poured into spying on Muslims, the FBI seldom discovered a plot that it did not concoct itself.

Shahawar Siraj, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

CMU prisoner Shahawar Matin Siraj had no explosives or concrete plan of attack, but that did not prevent a judge from sentencing him to 30 years for plotting to bomb New York’s Herald Square. The informant who befriended him, and then goaded him into the plan, was paid $100,000 by the NYPD.

Imprisonment is erasure. The state locks a person in a cage—without context, without community, without love. He becomes not human but a widget passing through a system of absolute control. The CMU enacts a double erasure: it represents the ultimate scission of the prisoner from his non-prison self. You are in a box. You are no one. You belong to us.

Andy is working on a documentary about CMUs. He asked me to draw pictures of some prisoners. Drawing is slow, deliberate. It is an antidote to forgetting men the state wants the world to forget.

One night I worked on a portrait of Ghassan Elashi. A former vice president of an internet company, Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for running the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Through charitable organizations in Gaza, Holy Land allegedly funneled money to Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

Ghassan Elashi, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

Andy invited Elashi’s daughter, Noor, to my studio. She brought a photograph of her father. I was unable to draw him from life, as the USP Marion is not easy to visit. The three of us stayed up late into the night, me rendering Noor’s father’s eyes in careful watercolor, Andy filming us as she watched me draw.

Noor is a stylishly dressed young writer who sidelines as a baker of gluten-free cupcakes. But when she talks about her father, her voice grows cold with pain. She remembers how FBI agents threw him to the floor when they raided their home. She remembers prison guards screaming at her young brother, who has Down syndrome, when he tried to hug his dad (she and her brother were subsequently denied visits for months). She remembers how her father was barred from making phone calls for writing his name on a yoga mat.

She does not believe for a moment that her father deliberately funneled funds to Hamas.

Noor’s situation shows how CMUs rip apart not only prisoners’ lives but also the lives of their families and community. Noor is still fighting for her dad.

In “Counterpunch,” Noor wrote, “My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights.”

Noor’s words point to one of the war on terror’s most insidious legacies. The war on terror flattened Muslims into bogeymen. They could no longer be troubled young men. Nor could they be political dissidents, heads of charities or defenders of human rights. Dissent was equated with terrorism.

In making a fetish of the word “freedom,” America revoked the freedom of so many within her borders. Civil liberties defenders must remember that Muslims are not a separate class of people. Attacks on Muslims’ rights are attacks on human rights.

Iraq Crisis: Created by Bush & Blair and Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia June 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: I have found Robert Fisk to be the most reliable analyst of Middle East affairs.  He has lived and reported from there for decades.  Here he describes how all the death and destruction wreaked by the Bush/Blair gang of warmongers, not only leaves Iraq in a state of bloody chaos, but also results in a victory of the very forces of Islamic extremism that the illegal war was supposed to overcome (long after Bush and Blair have left office with their millions and declared victory).

 

Bush and Blair said Iraq was a war on Islamic fascism. They lost

Young men in Baghdad chant slogans against Isis outside the main army recruiting centre yesterday, where they are volunteering to fight the extremist group. (Credit: Karin Kadim/AP)

So after the grotesquerie of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 suicide killers of 9/11, meet Saudi Arabia’s latest monstrous contribution to world history: the Islamist Sunni caliphate of Iraq and the Levant, conquerors of Mosul and Tikrit – and Raqqa in Syria – and possibly Baghdad, and the ultimate humiliators of Bush and Obama.

From Aleppo in northern Syria almost to the Iraqi-Iranian border, the jihadists of Isis and sundry other groupuscules paid by the Saudi Wahhabis – and by Kuwaiti oligarchs – now rule thousands of square miles.

“Bush and Blair destroyed Saddam’s regime to make the world safe and declared that Iraq was part of a titanic battle against ‘Islamofascism.’ Well, they lost.”

Apart from Saudi Arabia’s role in this catastrophe, what other stories are to be hidden from us in the coming days and weeks?

The story of Iraq and the story of Syria are the same – politically, militarily and journalistically: two leaders, one Shia, the other Alawite, fighting for the existence of their regimes against the power of a growing Sunni Muslim international army.

While the Americans support the wretched Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his elected Shia government in Iraq, the same Americans still demand the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his regime, even though both leaders are now brothers-in-arms against the victors of Mosul and Tikrit.

The Croesus-like wealth of Qatar may soon be redirected away from the Muslim rebels of Syria and Iraq to the Assad regime, out of fear and deep hatred for its Sunni brothers in Saudi Arabia (which may invade Qatar if it becomes very angry).

We all know of the “deep concern” of Washington and London at the territorial victories of the Islamists – and the utter destruction of all that America and Britain bled and died for in Iraq. No one, however, will feel as much of this “deep concern” as Shia Iran and Assad of Syria and Maliki of Iraq, who must regard the news from Mosul and Tikrit as a political and military disaster. Just when Syrian military forces were winning the war for Assad, tens of thousands of Iraqi-based militants may now turn on the Damascus government, before or after they choose to advance on Baghdad.

No one will care now how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered since 2003 because of the fantasies of Bush and Blair. These two men destroyed Saddam’s regime to make the world safe and declared that Iraq was part of a titanic battle against “Islamofascism.” Well, they lost. Remember that the Americans captured and recaptured Mosul to crush the power of Islamist fighters. They fought for Fallujah twice. And both cities have now been lost again to the Islamists. The armies of Bush and Blair have long gone home, declaring victory.

Under Obama, Saudi Arabia will continue to be treated as a friendly “moderate” in the Arab world, even though its royal family is founded upon the Wahhabist convictions of the Sunni Islamists in Syria and Iraq – and even though millions of its dollars are arming those same fighters. Thus does Saudi power both feed the monster in the deserts of Syria and Iraq and cosy up to the Western powers that protect it.

We should also remember that Maliki’s military attempts to retake Mosul are likely to be ferocious and bloody, just as Assad’s battles to retake cities have proved to be. The refugees fleeing Mosul are more frightened of Shia government revenge than they are of the Sunni jihadists who have captured their city.

We will all be told to regard the new armed “caliphate” as a “terror nation.” Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, the Isis spokesman, is intelligent, warning against arrogance, talking of an advance on Baghdad when he may be thinking of Damascus. Isis is largely leaving the civilians of Mosul unharmed.

Finally, we will be invited to regard the future as a sectarian war when it will be a war between Muslim sectarians and Muslim non-sectarians. The “terror” bit will be provided by the arms we send to all sides.

Shadow Lives: How the War on Terror in England Became a War on Women and Children March 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Racism, Torture, Uncategorized, War on Terror, Women.
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Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

by Victoria Brittain

Once, as a reporter, I covered wars, conflicts, civil wars, and even a genocide in places like Vietnam, Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping away from official briefings and listening to the people who were living the war.  In the years since the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, I’ve done the same thing without ever leaving home.

In the last decade, I didn’t travel to distant refugee camps in Pakistan or destroyed villages in Afghanistan, nor did I spend time in besieged cities like Iraq’s Fallujah or Libya’s Misrata.  I stayed in Great Britain.  There, my government, in close conjunction with Washington, was pursuing its own version of what, whether anyone cared to say it or not, was essentially a war against Islam.  Somehow, by a series of chance events, I found myself inside it, spending time with families transformed into enemies.

I hadn’t planned to write about the war on terror, but driven by curiosity about lives most of us never see and a few lucky coincidences, I stumbled into a world of Muslim women in London, Manchester, and Birmingham.  Some of them were British, others from Arab and African countries, but their husbands or sons had been swept up in Washington’s war. Some were in Guantanamo, some were among the dozen Muslim foreigners who did not know each other, and who were surprised to find themselves imprisoned together in Britain on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. Later, some of these families would find themselves under house arrest.

In the process, I came to know women and children who were living in almost complete isolation and with the stigma of a supposed link to terrorism. They had few friends, and were cut off from the wider world. Those with a husband under house arrest were allowed no visitors who had not been vetted for “security,” nor could they have computers, even for their children to do their homework.  Other lonely women had husbands or sons who had sometimes spent a decade or more in prison without charges in the United Kingdom, and were fighting deportation or extradition.

Gradually, they came to accept me into their isolated lives and talked to me about their children, their mothers, their childhoods — but seldom, at first, about the grim situations of their husbands, which seemed too intimate, too raw, too frightening, too unknowable to be put into words.

In the early years, it was a steep learning curve for me, spending time in homes where faith was the primary reality, Allah was constantly invoked, English was a second language, and privacy and reticence were givens. Facebook culture had not come to most of these families. The reticence faded over the years, especially when the children were not there, or in the face of the kind of desolation that came from a failed court appeal to lift the restrictions on their lives, an unexpected police raid on the house, a husband’s suicide attempt, or the coming of a new torture report from Washington’s then-expanding global gulag of black sites and, of course, Guantanamo.

In these years, I met some of their husbands and sons as well.  The first was a British man from Birmingham, Moazzam Begg. He had been held for three years in Washington’s notorious offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to be released without charges.  When he came home, through his lawyer, he asked me to help write his memoir, the first to come out of Guantanamo.  We worked long months on Enemy Combatant. It was hard for him to relive his nightmare days and nights in American custody in Kandahar and in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then those limbo years in Cuba. It was even harder for him to visit the women whose absent husbands he had known in prison and who, unlike him, were still there.

Was My Husband Tortured?

In these homes he visited, there was always one great unspoken question: Was my husband or son tortured? It was the single question no one could bear to ask a survivor of that nightmare, even for reassurance. When working on his book, I deliberately left the chapter on his experiences in American hands in Bagram prison for last, as I sensed how difficult it would be for both of us to speak about the worst of the torture I knew he had experienced.

Through Moazzam, I met other men who had been swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet for Muslims in Great Britain, refugees who sought him out as an Arabic speaker and a British citizen to help them negotiate Britain’s newly hostile atmosphere in the post-9/11 years.  Soon, I began to visit some of their wives, too.

In time, I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death unless he was given refugee documents to leave Britain, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.

I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.

I was halfway through working on Moazzam’s book when London was struck by our 9/11, which we call 7/7. The July 7, 2005, suicide bombings, in three parts of the London underground and a bus, killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700. The four bombers were all young British men between 18 and 30, two of them married with children, and one of them a mentor at a primary school. In video statements left behind they described themselves as “soldiers” whose aim was to force the British government to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just three weeks later, there were four more coordinated bomb attacks on the London subway system.  (All failed to detonate.) The four men responsible, longterm British residents originally from the Horn of Africa, were captured, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In this way, the whole country was traumatised in 2005, and that particularly includes the various strands of the Muslim community in Great Britain.

The British security services quickly returned to a post-9/11 stance on overdrive. The same MI5 intelligence agents who had interrogated Moazzam while he was in U.S. custody asked to meet him again to get his thoughts on who might be behind the attacks. However, three years in U.S. custody and five months at home occupied with his family and his book had not made him a likely source of information on current strains of thought in the British Muslim community.

At the same time, the dozen foreign Muslim refugees detained in the aftermath of 9/11 and held without trial for two years before being released on the orders of the House of Lords were rearrested. In the summer of 2005, the government prepared to deport them to countries they had originally fled as refugees.

All of them had been made anonymous by court order and in legal documents were referred to as Mr. G, Mr. U, and so on. This was no doubt intended to safeguard their privacy, but in a sense it also condemned them.  It made them faceless, inhuman, and their families experienced it just that way. “They even took my husband’s name away, why?” one wife asked me.

The women I was meeting in these years were mostly from this small group, as well as the relatives of a handful of British residents — Arabs — who were not initially returned from Guantanamo with the nine British citizens that the Americans finally released without charges in 2004 and 2005.

Perhaps no one in the country was, in the end, more terrorised than them, thanks to the various terror plots by British nationals that followed. And they were right to be fearful.  The pressure on them was overwhelming.  Some of them simply gave up and went home voluntarily because they could not bear house arrest, though they risked being sent to prison in their native lands; others went through years of house arrest and court appeals against deportation, all of which continues to this day.

Among the plots that unnerved them were one in 2006 against transatlantic aircraft, for which a total of 12 Britons were jailed for life in 2009, and the 2007 attempt to blow up a London nightclub and Glasgow International Airport, in which one bomber died and the second was jailed for 32 years. In the post-9/11 decade, 237 people were convicted of terror-related offences in Britain.

Though all of this was going on, much of it remained remote from the world of the refugee women I came to know who, in the larger world, were mainly preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, with Palestinian developments, filled their TV screens tuned only to Arabic stations.

These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares, but for anyone in their company there was no mistaking them: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another, with several small children, turned back from a prison visit, despite a long journey, because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.

These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another turned back from a prison visit because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.

Here was the texture of a hidden war of continual harassment against a largely helpless population.  This was how some of the most vulnerable people in British society — often already traumatised refugees and torture survivors — were made permanent scapegoats for our post-9/11, and then post-7/7 fears.

So powerful is the stigma of “terrorism” today that, in the name of “our security,” whether in Great Britain or the United States, just about anything now goes, and ever fewer people ask questions about what that “anything” might actually be. Here in London, repeated attempts to get influential religious or political figures simply to visit one of these officially locked-down families and see these lives for themselves have failed. In the present political climate, such a personal, fact-finding visit proved to be anything but a priority for such people.

A Legal System of Secret Evidence, House Arrest, and Financial Sanctions

Against this captive population, in such an anything-goes atmosphere, all sorts of experimental perversions of the legal system were tried out.  As a result, the British system of post-9/11 justice contains many features which should frighten us all but are completely unfamiliar to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom.

Key aspects for the families I have been concerned with include the use of secret evidence in cases involving deportation, bail conditions, and imprisonment without trial. In addition, most of their cases have been heard in a special court known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or SIAC, which is housed in an anonymous basement set of rooms in central London.

One of SIAC’s innovative features is the use of “special advocates,” senior barristers who have security clearance to see secret evidence on behalf of their clients, but without being allowed to disclose it or discuss it, even with the client or his or her own lawyer. The resignation on principle of a highly respected barrister, Ian Macdonald, as a special advocate in November 2004 exposed this process to the public for the first time — but almost no one took any interest.

And a sense of the injustice in this arcane system was never sufficiently sparked by such voices, which found little echo in the media. Nor was there a wide audience for reports from ateam of top psychiatrists about the devastating psychological impact on the men and their families of indefinite detention without trial, and of a house-arrest system framed by “control orders” that allow the government to place restrictions of almost any sort on the lives of those it designates.

An even less noted aspect of the anti-terror legal system brought into existence after 9/11 was the financial sanctions that could freeze the assets of designated individuals.  First ordered by the United Nations, the financial-sanctions regime was consolidated here through a European Union list of designated people. The few lawyers who specialized in this area were scathing about the draconian measures involved and the utter lack of transparency when it came to which governments had put which names on which list.

The effect on the listed families was draconian.  Marriages collapsed under the strain. The listed men were barred from working and only allowed £10 a week for personal expenses. Their wives — often from conservative cultures where all dealings with the outside world had been left to husbands — suddenly were the families’ faces to the world, responsible for everything from shopping to accounting monthly to the government’s Home Office for every item the family purchased, right down to a bottle of milk or a pencil for a child. It was humiliating for the men, who lost their family role overnight, and exhausting and frustrating for the women, while in some cases the rest of their families shunned them because of the taint of alleged terrorism. Almost no one except specialist lawyers even knew that such financial sanctions existed in Britain.

In the country’s High Court, the first judicial challenge to the financial-sanctions regime was brought in 2008 by five British Muslim men known only as G, K, A, M, and Q. In response, Justice Andrew Collins said he found it “totally unacceptable” that, to take an especially absurd example, a man should have to get a license for legal advice about the sanctions from the very body that was imposing them. The man in question had waited three months for a “basic expense” license permitting funds for food and rent, and six months for a license to obtain legal advice about the situation he found himself in.

In a related case before the judicial committee of the House of Lords, Justice Leonard Hoffman expressed incredulity at the “meanness and squalor” of a regime that “monitored who had what for lunch.” More recently, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court endorsed the comments of Lord Justice Stephen Sedley who described those subject to the regime as being akin to “prisoners of the state.”

Among senior lawyers concerned about this hidden world of punishment was Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. He devoted one of his official U.N. reports to the financial sanctions issue. His recommendations included significantly more transparency from governments who put people on such a list, the explicit exclusion of evidence obtained by torture, and the obligation of governments to give reasons when they refuse to remove individuals from the list.  Of course, no one who mattered was paying the slightest attention.

Against ideological governments obsessed by terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic and a culture numbed by violent anti-terrorist tales like “24” and Zero Dark Thirty, such complicated and technical initiatives on behalf of individuals who have been given the tag, implicitly if not explicitly, of “terrorist” stand little chance of getting attention.

“Each Time It’s Worse”

Nearly a decade ago, at the New York opening night of Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, the play Gillian Slovo and I wrote using only the words of the relatives of prisoners in that jail, their lawyers, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an elderly man approached Moazzam Begg’s father and me.  He introduced himself as a former foreign policy adviser to President John Kennedy. “It could never have happened in our time,” he said.

When the Global War on Terror was still relatively new, it was common for audiences to react similarly and with shock to a play in which fathers and brothers describe their bewilderment over the way their relation had disappeared into the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay. In the years since, we have become numb to the destruction of lives, livelihoods, futures, childhoods, legal systems, and trust by Washington’s and London’s never-ending war on terror.

In that time, I have seen children grow from toddlers to teenagers locked inside this particular war machine.  What they say today should startle us out of such numbness. Here, for instance, are the words of two teenagers, a girl and a boy whose fathers had been imprisoned or under house arrest in Britain for 10 years and whose lives in those same years were filled with indignities and humiliations:

“People seem to think that we get used to things being how they are for us, so we don’t feel the injustices so much now. They are quite wrong: it was painful the first time, more painful the second, even more so the third. In fact, each time it’s worse, if you can believe that. There isn’t a limit on how much pain you can feel.”

The boy added this:

“There is never one day when I feel safe. It can be the authorities, it can be ordinary people, they can do something bad for us. Only like now when we are all in the house together can I stop worrying about my mum and my sisters, and even me, what might happen to us. On the tube [subway], in class at university, people look at my beard.  I see them looking and I know they are thinking bad things about me. I would like to be a normal guy who no one looks at. You know, other boys, some of my friends, they cut corners, things like driving without a current license, everyone does it. But I can’t, I can’t ever, ever, take even a small risk. I have to always be cautious, be responsible… for my family.”

These children have been brought up by women who, against all odds, have often preserved their dignity and kept at least a modicum of joy in their families’ lives, and so, however despised, however unnoticed, however locked away, made themselves an inspiration to others. They are not victims to be pitied, but women our societies should embrace.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response to recent proposals that Washington establish a secret court to oversee the targeting of terrorist suspects for death-by-drone and President Obama’s expanding executive power to kill, speak for the world beyond the West.  They offer a different perspective on the war on terror that Washington and Great Britain continue to pursue with no end in sight:

“Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the nineteenth century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.  I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.”

© 2013 Victoria Brittain
Victoria Brittain

Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) has just been published.

“Argo” is bad, embarrassing and wrong February 26, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Iran.
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Roger’s note: Here is another analysis of Argo.  I am afraid only the critical minded see the pernicious subtext of this movie.  An intelligent and fairly progressive friend said, “what is all the fuss about, it only portrayed what really happened.”  One critic I read alluded to the eerie scene where Michelle Obama appears on a huge screen to award the Oscar, comparing it to Big Brother/Sister watching.  Chilling.

 

The Chronicle

 

By Abdullah Antepli | February 26, 2013

Imam Antepli is the Muslim Chaplain at Duke University. He writes a regular column for the Duke Chronicle.

I wonder if I am the only one deeply disturbed and troubled by the recent Hollywood movie, “Argo.” My increasing sense of loneliness and alienation with “Argo” has been fed by the movie’s overrated fame, its undeserved success in the movie theaters and now more painfully by the multiple Oscars that it has won. To me, “Argo” and the response it has created shed light on larger problems that we face in our society, especially in our movie industry. “Argo” demonstrates how out of touch we are with crucial global realities and how disconnected we are from how we come across to the rest of the human family through these kinds of expressions.

I welcomed the news of “Argo” when I first heard of it, hoping that it would help us face one of the ugliest chapters of our recent U.S. history with Iran. I was misled by the initial publicity of the movie and excited to see how the movie would unveil our government’s miserably failed foreign policies prior to the Islamic revolution in 1979. I was eagerly waiting to see how the movie would enable an honest, self-critical assessment of Uncle Sam’s—especially the CIA’s—shameful involvement in the toppling of the democratically-elected government in Iran in the early 1950s and the empowering of a reprehensibly corrupt and oppressive regime in the country for over four decades. More importantly, I hoped the movie would show how, in part, these ethical and moral failures helped the conception and the birth of the so-called 1979 Islamic Revolution that ruined Iranian society.

After giving a puzzlingly brief lip service to my expectations at the beginning of the movie, “Argo” moved on to be another embarrassing “Rambo III” movie in many despicable ways: an innocent, white, Western David beating up ugly, exotic, monstrous oriental Goliaths and emerging as victor despite all odds. It caters to its home audience’s starvation for self-glory and self-serving, happy endings. More troublingly, the movie does all of that by distorting the obvious facts about one of the most important events in our recent history and dehumanizing a rich civilization irresponsibly. Film critic Kevin B. Lee expressed my heartache best when he recently reviewed “Argo” for Slate:

“Looking at the runaway success of this film, it seems as if critics and audiences alike lack the historical knowledge to recognize a self-serving perversion of an unflattering past, or the cultural acumen to see the utterly ersatz nature of the enterprise: a cast of stock characters and situations, and a series of increasingly contrived narrow escapes from third world mobs who, predictably, are never quite smart enough to catch up with the Americans.”

“Argo” also disturbingly caters to the biased, post-9-11 image of Islam, Muslims and Middle Easterners and effectively serves to re-assert existing stereotypes. The movie skillfully markets once again the newly found international enemy of Western civilization. The movie describes and pictures the monolithic, black-and-white, pejorative, primitive, archaic, vengeful, unforgiving, irredeemably ignorant and forever dangerous nature of this new and scary enemy.

Since the release of the movie, many of my friends from all over the world, both Middle Eastern and otherwise, expressed their dismay and distaste about “Argo.” Much of what they said can be summarized in the following questions: “Who the heck do these people think they are?” “Who will buy this self-serving, biased and inaccurate propaganda in 2013?” “Do they (the filmmakers) not realize they make fools of themselves? For God’s sake give us a break!”

I also wonder how many Americans watched Argo and asked these kinds of questions. My friends’ rightful frustrations over “Argo” mirror certain realities of us as a society. It is no longer the 1980s, the Reagan days where movies like “Rambo” can fly. This kind of self-glorifying distortion of history can no longer go unnoticed or unpunished. What will it take to wake up from our self-delusions and express ourselves as we are, not what we wish to be? Again, Slate’s Kevin B. Lee puts it perfectly:

“We can delight all we like in this cinematic recycling act, but the fact remains that we are no longer living in a world where we can get away with films like this—not if we want to be in a position to deal with a world that is rising to meet us. The movies we endorse need to rise to the occasion of reflecting a new global reality, using a newer set of storytelling tools than this reheated excuse for a historical geopolitical thriller.”

I can’t agree with him more and I fully share his disappointment and deep sense of embarrassment over “Argo.” U.S. society in general and our movie industry in particular have so much to catch up on with modern day realities and global responsibilities. Let’s stop making fools of ourselves.

Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim Chaplain and an adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Abdullah on Twitter @aantepli.

Obama’s Unprecedented Use of State Secrets to Defend Religious Profiling September 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Racism, Religion, Uncategorized.
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Published on Thursday, September 8, 2011 by Colorlines

by Asraa Mustufa

In the summer of 2006, a French Syrian man known as Farouk al-Aziz publicly converted to Islam in front of a Friday prayer congregation at a large mosque in Irvine, Calif. Mosque leadership and attendants were quick to embrace al-Aziz as a new member of their faith. The Islamic center’s imam asked a congregant to teach al-Aziz how to pray, and he quickly became a regular attendee at the mosque in Irvine and others in Orange County.

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images 

 However, community members soon became wary of al-Aziz. He would often sit in on groups, listening to other Muslim congregants’ conversations within the mosque, at family picnics or at a local gym. Most troubling to other attendees was his frequent, unusual questions about a violent form of jihad. Community members say when al-Aziz began implying that he was contemplating violent action, boasting he knew where to get weapons and trying to gather people in a plot, congregants quickly brought the issue to the attention of mosque leadership. They obtained a restraining order against him and reached out to the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which helped them report al-Aziz’s actions to the FBI.

As it turned out, the FBI was already well aware of al-Aziz’s activities at the mosque—they had in fact sent him there. He was one of thousands of informants the FBI has used since 9/11 to spy upon Muslim American communities and concoct terrorism plots inside them. The practice has drawn attention from news media and civil liberties advocates in recent years, and Muslim American community leaders are organizing to demand its end. But one huge, unexpected hurdle now stands in the way: The Obama administration’s invocation of a national security provision that makes it impossible for communities and individuals to protect their rights through lawsuits.

The provision, known as the state secrets privilege, permits the government to block discovery in a lawsuit of any information that, if disclosed, could adversely affect national security or foreign relations. President Obama vowed while campaigning that he’d end its use. Instead, his administration has not only continued invoking it, but has done so in a previously unprecedented way in order to protect legally questionable surveillance of Muslim American communities.

President Obama’s Privileged Secrets

Al-Aziz’s name was actually Craig Monteilh, and he was a paid informant working for the FBI. Monteilh, who was profiled in a Mother Jones investigation into the FBI’s spying program this month, had worked with the bureau for several years. He fell out with the FBI after he was convicted of grand theft in 2007 and his role as an informant was revealed in court documents. Monteilh filed suit against the FBI and went public about his activities as an informant—including that he was instructed to infiltrate southern Californian mosques and spy on worshippers.

Earlier this year, Muslim community advocates responded with a lawsuit of their own. In Fazaga v. FBI, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Los Angeles chapter of CAIR allege that by indiscriminately surveilling several southern Californian mosques and collecting information on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of law-abiding American Muslims, the FBI violated their constitutional rights. In addition to Monteilh’s reports of the instructions he received from the FBI, attorneys on the case say that the numerous accounts of Muslim community members who came in contact with Monteilh, as well as some FBI guidelines themselves, all strongly indicate that the FBI’s targeting of mosques was based on religion alone, rather than on following leads or indications of unlawful activity.

Last month, the Obama administration invoked the state secrets privilege in an effort to have the suit dismissed. In the filing, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department cannot allow the case to be litigated, because it would lead to the disclosure of sensitive information, which could in turn “reasonably be expected to cause harm to national security.”

The Bush administration infamously expanded the use of the state secrets doctrine, frequently invoking it to have entire lawsuits dismissed, rather than employing it to have individual pieces of evidence excluded from court, as it had been used in the past. As a candidate, President Obama criticized his predecessor’s repeated use of the privilege “to get cases thrown out of civil court.” Since taking office, however, Obama’s Justice Department has done the exact same thing.

The Obama administration has continued to assert the state secrets privilege in lawsuits still pending from the Bush years, on cases involving warrantless wiretapping, detention, torture and rendition of terrorism suspects at CIA black sites. And the administration has been successful in getting lawsuits dismissed on those grounds. The Obama Justice Department has also asserted the privilege in a lawsuit over the government’s right to target and kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, outside a war zone and absent an imminent threat to national security.

Both administrations’ use of the privilege to cover up questionable government behavior is not unprecedented. Indeed, in the landmark 1953 Supreme Court case United States v. Reynolds, the government invoked the state secrets privilege to circumvent the disclosure of an accident report in a wrongful death action involving the military. The court bought the government’s argument, but when the document was declassified in 2004, it was found to contain no sensitive information about national security whatsoever. Rather, it contained information proving government negligence.

The Obama administration’s invocation of the state secrets privilege, however, is unprecedented, transparency advocates assert. In previous and ongoing suits where the doctrine has been invoked, plaintiffs were seeking damages for a past violation of rights; the constitutional violations described in the Fazaga v. FBI are ongoing.

“The biggest difference is that here we have an ongoing constitutional violation against American citizens on American soil, and if courts can dismiss challenges to such ongoing violations on the grounds that…the program is secret, then that’s fundamentally inconsistent with very basic structural protections we have in our democratic function of government,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director of ACLU in southern California and a lead attorney on the case. “Our system virtually never allows the courthouse doors to be closed to an ongoing violation of the Constitution.”

Arulanantham also argues the government’s claim that sensitive national security information is at risk doesn’t hold up, given how widely reported Monteilh’s informant activities in “Operation Flex” have been. “There is nothing secret about the fact that the FBI was employing Craig Monteilh and that he surveiled hundreds or thousands of Muslims and gathered information on them.”

Since the lawsuit was filed, further evidence has emerged of similarly indiscriminate surveillance practices. When the northern California chapter of the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus filed a Freedom of Information Act request about government surveillance of American Muslim communities, they obtained a PowerPoint presentation used by the FBI to train new recruits. The presentation included estimates of the number of mosques in America, and listed states with the largest Muslim populations. It also presented a troubling and simplistic depiction of Muslims and Arabs, and highlighted the work of career Islamophobe Robert Spencer in its recommended reading list.

NYPD Conducting Similar Surveillance

The FBI’s not the only agency snooping on Muslim Americans, though. Late last month, the Associated Press published an investigation on the New York Police Department’s covert surveillance of Muslims communities. The article, based on interviews with over 40 current and former NYPD and federal officials, detailed the aggressive practices of the agency’s domestic intelligence gathering operation. According to the AP’s findings, the NYPD, with much help from the CIA, used undercover officers to map and monitor Muslim-populated immigrant and black Muslim neighborhoods in and beyond the city, and dispatched informants to monitor sermons delivered at mosques and Muslim student groups, without any prior indication of unlawful behavior. The revelations came as little surprise to Muslim civil liberties groups, as such activities by the NYPD have long been widely reported by community members and documented by advocates, as well as by official testimony.

“There was already a picture being painted of the way this program was playing out in local communities. What we didn’t know and was the most troubling about the report was how deep and how normalized this program has become,” said Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager at the New York chapter of CAIR.

Earlier this year, the Village Voice found that the NYPD had also screened the anti-Islamic hate film “The Third Jihad”—which describes Islam as a threat to the U.S. and was made by the Clarion Fund—at a mandatory counter-terrorism course for officers.

McGoldrick said civil liberties advocates are demanding a federal investigation of the CIA’s involvement as well as investigations by local officials. The NYPD maintains that the CIA’s role in the surveillance is merely advisory.

Community organizations are also trying to equip Muslim Americans with resources to protect themselves from the police department’s profiling. The group Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), which works with low-income South Asian and Muslim immigrants in New York City, is planning a citywide survey to collect information on law enforcement interactions with the Muslim community.

Meanwhile, advocates warn that the all of this surveillance has created a sense of mistrust within communities. “People don’t speak freely anymore, people don’t feel comfortable engaging in candid conversations,” said Ameena Mirza Qazi, deputy executive director of CAIR’s L.A. chapter and an attorney for the plaintiff in the Fazaga lawsuit.

“The mosque is a building, but it’s about the community,” Qazi said. “To have the government come and disrupt that, that’s a very clear violation of our First Amendment freedom to practice our religion as we wish.”

A Wrong Headed Approach?

Aside from being predatory and potentially illegal, unwarranted surveillance is self-defeating, Muslim leaders say.

“This isn’t a program that makes us safer. This is a program that is investigating communities and not crimes,” McGoldrick said about the NYPD’s infiltration of Muslim communities via informants. “Instead of stopping crimes, they’re manufacturing crimes and they’re creating the images of crimes, and really just alienating an entire community that’s been nothing but supportive and has been at the lead of policing our own communities since 9/11 and before.”

Qazi had similar sentiments about how these revelations affect Muslim communities’ relationship with law enforcement. “If you’re treating us as suspects, how can we trust that you’ll treat us as partners?” she said, also pointing out that Muslims in southern California immediately alerted authorities when Monteilh began speaking about violent activity. “His role as an agent provocateur didn’t last very long because he was cut short by Muslim community members themselves.”

Yet, techniques like unwarranted surveillance, highly paid informants and questionable sting operations draw huge amounts of funding for the FBI and NYPD. According to Mother Jones, the FBI’s counter-terrorism budget stands at $3.3 billion, and as a whole, the agency spends more on hunting potential threats to national security than on chasing “ordinary criminals,” the New York Times recently found. The AP reports that the NYPD has received more than $1.6 billion from the federal government since 9/11, with little oversight from external authorities.

In counterterrorism, law enforcement relies heavily on informants, some recruited from Muslim communities under the pressure of threatened immigration troubles or past criminal infractions, as the targets of informants account for roughly half of defendants in domestic terror prosecutions to date, Mother Jones’ investigation found.  Some advocates question whether the agencies are more interested in using funds to produce terrorism arrests and convictions than on addressing an existing national security threat.

“There is incredible pressure on law enforcement to prevent attacks…if you are able to lead somebody into a plot, you then have a success. You have made a counter terrorism case, you made an arrest, and you will most likely get a conviction, and all of that plays into how funds are allocated and how different agencies are perceived,” said Faiza Patel, the co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Patel has written widely on the theory of “radicalization” embraced by different law enforcement agencies (and some politicians), a main aspect of which includes an understanding that certain interpretations or expressions of Islam consistently lead to acts of violence. Such thinking is espoused in a 2007 report the NYPD published on homegrown terrorism, which listed signs of “radicalization” such as regular attendance at mosques, giving up cigarettes, drinking gambling, and the wearing of “urban hip-hop gangster clothes,” or wearing Islamic clothing, growing a beard and even becoming involved in social activism.

“If you think there’s this religious conveyer belt leading to terrorism, then you think it’s useful to see what people are saying and doing in their practice of religion, and that leads you into surveillance of mosques and bookstores and community centers,” Patel said.

The NYPD report might point to a more fundamental problem underlying law enforcement’s treatment of Muslim communities: The view of basic practices of the Islamic faith, including congregation, as indications of potential danger undermines the standing of American Muslims as a group deserving the same social protections as everybody else.

“Look, we’ve had a consensus I think in this country that racial profiling is wrong,” Patel said. “What we don’t somehow seem to have a consensus about is whether or not that rule applies to national security cases, and whether or not that rule applies to things such as religion or ethnicity.”

Asraa Mustufa is a regular contributor to Colorlines.com and a research intern at the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.

© 2011 Colorlines

Petraeus: Quran Burning Could Endanger US Troops September 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, War.
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(Roger’s note: Good start, General Petraeus.  Now, let’s think, what other factors are endangering US troops?  I guess we could start with sending them to invade and occupy sovereign nations in violation of moral and international law and with muderous consequences for the people and their infrastructure.  Then, how about the the US’s arming Israel to the teeth in the midst of the Muslim world, and supporting and abetting its genocidal policy towards the Palestinian peoples?  I could probably think of a few more, but you probably get the picture.  Looking forward to the good general’s continued critique of his country’s unpatriotic behavior towards the members of the armed services.)

AOL News, September 6, 2010

(Sept. 6) — Throughout history, whenever books have been set on fire, passions have been unleashed.

In Gainesville, Fla., a pastor’s plan to hold a public burning of Qurans to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has already set off angry protests from Afghanistan to Indonesia and elicited a formal response from the U.S. Embassy condemning the plan. Now, the book burning has another high-profile foe: Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of American forces fighting in that country.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Petraeus told The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”
Terry Jones, the pastor at Dove World Outreach Center, told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that his church has declared Sept. 11 as “International Burn a Quran Day,” and added that he hoped the burning of the Muslim religion’s holy text “will be as it is intended, as a warning.”

That the proposed actions of Jones’ church, which counts just 50 members in its congregation, should reverberate so loudly across the world is itself a telling sign of tensions between the West and the Muslim world, as well as what some see as a growing distrust of Islam in the United States.

From the controversy surrounding the so-called “ground zero mosque” in lower Manhattan, to the suspected arson at the construction site of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks comes as Americans engage in a vocal debate over the role of Islam in the future of the nation.

While Gen. Petraeus’ fears that “Burn a Quran” day will lead to violence against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and around the world, police in Gainesville are also preparing for possible violence in Florida as a result of the church’s protest.

Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us January 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War on Terror.
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(Roger’s note: I would like to add one minor aside to Ray McGovern’s incisive and tightly reasoned article posted below.  It has to do with President Obama.  Many, including myself, felt a profound relief that the exit of the barely literate Bush boy was followed by the ascendency to the presidency of a constitutional scholar.  How many times have I seen mention of relief that we finally have a president who can generate a readable sentence and who respects scientific analysis.  And yet …  And yet, here we see, as McGovern points out, the facile and banal manner in which Obama addresses the serious and vital question of al Qaeda and anti-American terrorism.  Instead of analysis, he gives us platitudes.  What is my point?  My point is that it is not intelligence or rhetoric or charisma — qualities which abound in the person of Barack Obama — but rather the policies, and the driving force behind those polices — read military-industrial complex — that are key.  Sadly, it has become all to clear that the differences between the Bush presidency and the Obama presidency are largely cosmetic.)
Published on Saturday, January 9, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Ray McGovern

Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day.

After Obama briefly addressed L’Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote “must do better” on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about channeling “intelligence streams,” fixing “no-fly” lists, deploying “behavior detection officers,” and buying more body-imaging scanners.

Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.

Thomas: “Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a – long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how evil al Qaeda continues to pervert a religion and entice and exploit impressionable young men.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

Obama’s Non-Answer

I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President limited himself to a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:

“It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”

But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to “justice and progress”?

Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do is “communicate clearly to Muslims” that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and its allies, that brings “misery and death”? Does any informed person not know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that for “misery and death”?

Rather than a failure to communicate, U.S. officials are trying to rewrite recent history, which seems to be much easier to accomplish with the Washington press corps and large segments of the American population than with the Muslim world.

But why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of motive?

Peeking Behind the Screen

We witnessed a similar phenomenon when the 9/11 Commission Report tiptoed into a cautious discussion of possible motives behind the 9/11 attacks. To their credit, the drafters of that report apparently went as far as their masters would allow, in gingerly introducing a major elephant into the room:

“America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” (p. 376)

When asked later about the flabby way that last sentence ended, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, explained that there had been a Donnybrook over whether that paragraph could be included at all.

The drafters also squeezed in the reason given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as to why he “masterminded” the attacks on 9/11:

“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed … from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney also has pointed to U.S. support for Israel as one of the “true sources of resentment”? This unique piece of honesty crept into his speech to the American Enterprise Institute on May 21, 2009.

Sure, he also trotted out the bromide that the terrorists hate “all the things that make us a force for good in the world.” But the Israel factor did slip into the speech, perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement of the Israeli albatross adorning the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Very few pundits and academicians are willing to allude to this reality, presumably out of fear for their future career prospects.

Former senior CIA officer Paul Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the few willing to refer, in his typically understated way, to “all the other things … including policies and practices that affect the likelihood that people … will be radicalized, and will try to act out the anger against us.” One has to fill in the blanks regarding what those “other things” are.

But no worries. Secretary Napolitano has a fix for this unmentionable conundrum. It’s called “counter-radicalization,” which she describes thusly:

“How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they’re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values and so forth … around the globe?”

Better communication. That’s the ticket.

Hypocrisy and Double Talk

But Napolitano doesn’t acknowledge the underlying problem, which is that many Muslims have watched Washington’s behavior closely for many years and view pious U.S. declarations about peace, justice, democracy and human rights as infuriating examples of hypocrisy and double talk.

So, Washington’s sanitized discussion about motives for terrorism seems more intended for the U.S. domestic audience than the Muslim world.

After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships; how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the U.S. military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how U.S. mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents.

The purpose of U.S. “public diplomacy” appears more designed to shield Americans from this unpleasant reality, offering instead feel-good palliatives about the beneficence of U.S. actions. Most American journalists and politicians go along with the charade out of fear that otherwise they would be accused of lacking patriotism or sympathizing with “the enemy.”

Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Salon.com’s Glen Greenwald, for example, has complained loudly about “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.,” and how it is taboo to point this out.

Greenwald recently called attention to a little-noticed Associated Press report on the possible motives of the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab. The report quoted his Yemeni friends to the effect that the he was “not overtly extremist.” But they noted that he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza. (Emphasis added)

Former CIA specialist on al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, has been still more outspoken on what he sees as Israel’s tying down the American Gulliver in the Middle East. Speaking Monday on C-SPAN, he complained bitterly that any debate on the issue of American support for Israel and its effects is normally squelched.

Scheuer added that the Israel Lobby had just succeeded in getting him removed from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for saying that Obama was “doing what I call the Tel Aviv Two-Step.”

More to the point, Scheuer asserted:

“For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn’t hurt us in the Muslim world … is to just defy reality.”

Beyond loss of work, those who speak out can expect ugly accusations. The Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which is considered the voice of the settler movement, weighed in strongly, branding Scheuer’s C-SPAN remarks “blatantly anti-Semitic.”

Media Squelching

As for media squelching, I continue to be amazed at how otherwise informed folks express total surprise when I refer them to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s statement about his motivation for attacking the United States, as cited on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report.  Here is the full sentence (shortened above):

“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

One can understand how even those following such things closely can get confused. On Aug. 30, 2009, five years after the 9/11 Commission Report was released, readers of the neoconservative Washington Post were given a diametrically different view, based on what the Post called “an intelligence summary:”

“KSM’s limited and negative experience in the United States – which included a brief jail-stay because of unpaid bills – almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist … He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country.”

Apparently, the Post found this revisionist version politically more convenient, in that it obscured Mohammed’s other explanation implicating “U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” It’s much more comforting to view KSM as a disgruntled visitor who nursed his personal grievances into justification for mass murder.

An unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the U.S. identification with Israel’s policies appeared five years ago in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004. Contradicting President George W. Bush, the board stated:

“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.

“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”

Abdulmutallab’s Attack

Getting back to Abdulmutallab and his motive in trying to blow up the airliner, how was this individual without prior terrorist affiliations suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents?

If, as John Brennan seems to suggest, al Qaeda terrorists are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” how are they also able to jump-start a privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al Qaeda/Persian Gulf?

As indicated above, the young Nigerian seems to have had particular trouble with Israel’s wanton slaughter of more than a thousand civilians in Gaza a year ago, a brutal campaign that was defended in Washington as justifiable self-defense.

Moreover, it appears that Abdulmutallab is not the only anti-American “terrorist” so motivated. When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda announced that they were uniting into “al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula,” their combined rhetoric railed against the Israeli attack on Gaza.

And on Dec. 30, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian physician, killed seven American CIA operatives and one Jordanian intelligence officer near Khost, Afghanistan, when he detonated a suicide bomb.

Though most U.S. media stories treated al-Balawi as a fanatical double agent driven by irrational hatreds, other motivations could be gleaned by carefully reading articles about his personal history.

Al-Balawi’s mother told Agence France-Presse that her son had never been an “extremist.” Al-Balawi’s widow, Defne Bayrak, made a similar statement to Newsweek.  In a New York Times article, al-Balawi’s brother was quoted as describing him as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor.”

So what led al-Balawi to take his own life in order to kill U.S. and Jordanian intelligence operatives?

Al-Balawi’s widow said her husband “started to change” after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His brother said al-Balawi “changed” during last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. (Emphasis added)

When al-Balawi volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza, he was arrested by Jordanian authorities, his brother said.

It was after that arrest that the Jordanian intelligence service apparently coerced or “recruited” al-Balawi to become a spy who would penetrate al Qaeda’s hierarchy and provide actionable intelligence to the CIA.

“If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you,” the brother said in explaining why al-Balawi would turn to suicide attack.

“My husband was anti-American; so am I,” his widow told Newsweek. Her two little girls would grow up fatherless, but she had no regrets.

Answering Helen

Are we starting to get the picture of what the United States is up against in the Muslim world?

Does Helen Thomas deserve an adult answer to her question about motive? Has President Obama been able to assimilate all this?

Or is the U.S. political/media establishment incapable of confronting this reality and/or taking meaningful action to alleviate the underlying causes of the violence?

Is the reported reaction of a CIA official to al-Balawi’s attack the appropriate one: “Last week’s attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day.”

Revenge has not always turned out very well in the past.

Does anyone remember the brutal killing of four Blackwater contractors on March 31, 2004, when they took a bad turn and ended up in the wrong neighborhood of the Iraqi city of Fallujah – and how U.S. forces virtually leveled that large city in retribution after George W. Bush won his second term the following November?

If you read only the Fawning Corporate Media, you would blissfully think that the killing of the four Blackwater operatives was the work of fanatical animals who got – along with their neighbors – the reprisal they deserved. You wouldn’t know that the killings represented the second turn in that specific cycle of violence.

On March 22, 2004, Israeli forces assassinated the then-spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sheikh Yassin – a withering old man, blind and confined to a wheelchair. (Emphasis added)

That murder, plus sloppy navigation by the Blackwater men, set the stage for the next set of brutalities. The Blackwater operatives were killed by a group that described itself as the “Sheikh Yassin Revenge Brigade.”

Pamphlets and posters were all over the scene of the attack; one of the trucks that pulled around body parts of the mercenaries had a large poster photo of Yassin in its window, as did store fronts all over Fallujah.

We can wish Janet Napolitano luck with her “counter-radicalization” project and President Obama with his effort to “communicate clearly to Muslims,” but there will be no diminution in the endless cycles of violence unless legitimate grievances are addressed on all sides.

It would certainly also help if the American people were finally let in on the root causes for what otherwise gets portrayed as unprovoked savagery by Muslims.

This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List (Updated for 2010) January 6, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Torture, War.
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(Roger’s note: I am making an exception here to my policy of not posting fund solicitation)

The Guantanamo Files

Please support my work!


Back in March, I published a four-part list identifying all 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, as “the culmination of a three-year project to record the stories of all the prisoners held at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Now updated (as my ongoing project nears its four-year mark), the four parts of the list are available here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

As I explained at the time, the first fruit of my research was my book The Guantánamo Files, in which, based on an exhaustive analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon (plus other sources), I related the story of Guantánamo, established a chronology explaining where and when the prisoners were seized, told the stories of around 450 of these men (and boys), and provided a context for the circumstances in which the remainder of the prisoners were captured.

The list provided references to the chapters in The Guantánamo Files where the prisoners’ stories can be found, and also provided numerous links to the hundreds of articles that I wrote between May 2007 and March 2009, for a variety of publications, expanding on and updating the stories of all 779 prisoners. In particular, I covered the stories of the 143 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 onwards in unprecedented depth, and also covered the stories of the 27 prisoners charged in Guantánamo’s Military Commission trial system in more detail than was available from most, if not all other sources.

In addition, the list also included links to the 12 online chapters, published between November 2007 and February 2009, in which I told the stories of over 250 prisoners that I was unable to include in the book (either because they were not available at the time of writing, or to keep the book at a manageable length).

As a result — and notwithstanding the fact that the New York Times had made a list of documents relating to each prisoner available online — I believe that I was justified in stating that the list was “the most comprehensive list ever published of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo,” providing details of the 533 prisoners released at that point (and the dates of their release), and the 241 prisoners who were still held (including the 59 prisoners who had been cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration), for the same reason that my book provides what I have been told is an unparalleled introduction to Guantánamo and the stories of the men held there: because it provides a much-needed context for these stories that is difficult to discern in the Pentagon’s documents without detailed analysis.

When I first published the list in March, I promised — perhaps rather rashly — that I would update the list as more prisoners were released, a task that proved easier to promise than to accomplish. As a result, this update to the four parts of the list draws on the 290 or so articles that I have published in the last ten months, tracking the Obama administration’s stumbling progress towards closing the prison, reporting the stories of the 41 prisoners released since March, and covering other aspects of the Guantánamo story; in particular, the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions in the US courts, in which, since March, nine prisoners have had their habeas corpus petitions granted by the US courts, and six have had their petitions refused (the total, to date, is 32 victories for the prisoners, and just nine for the government). Overall, as it stood at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 remained, including one man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission in 2008.

As for my intention, it remains the same as it did when I first published the list. As I explained at the time:

It is my hope that this project will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as “illegal enemy combatants.”

I also hope that it provides a compelling explanation of how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held — at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.

To this I would only add that, nearly a year after President Obama took office, I hope that the list and its references provide a useful antidote to the current scaremongering regarding the failed Christmas plane bomber, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his alleged ties with one — just one — of the 574 prisoners released from Guantánamo, in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda cell. This purported connection is being used by those who want the evil stain of Guantánamo to endure forever (still led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, but also including a number of spineless Democrats) to argue that no more of the Yemenis — who make up nearly half of the remaining prisoners — should be released, even though the ex-prisoner in question is a Saudi, even though no more than a dozen or so of the 574 prisoners released have gone on to have any involvement whatsoever with terrorism, and even though all of these men were released during the presidency of George W. Bush.

One year ago, it looked feasible that Guantánamo would close by January 2010. We now know that President Obama’s self-imposed deadline will be missed, partly through the unprincipled agitating of opportunistic opponents in Congress and the media, and partly through the government’s own lack of courage in the face of this opposition, but this is no reason for complacency. As the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening approaches, it remains imperative that those who oppose the existence of indefinite detention without charge or trial — and who call, instead, for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, and federal court trials for terrorists — maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo, and to charge or release the prisoners held there, as swiftly as possible.

Andy Worthington
London

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on The Public Record. Also discussed by Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Dish, by Juan Cole on Informed Comment (with a link to my recent article about the six Yemenis released before Christmas) and by The Talking Dog. It was also highlighted on the front page of Common Dreams, an edited version was posted in the UK on Liberal Conspiracy and Counterpoint, the blog of the British Council, and it was also cross-posted on various other sites including Global ResearchThe World Can’t Wait, psychologist and anti-torture blogger Jeff Kaye’s Invictus, Psyche, Science and Society, the blog of psychoanalyst, psychologist, researcher and activist Stephen Soldz, Free Detainees, Uruknet, Blog from Middle East and Shadow on the Sun. It was also discussed on Open Salon by Debra Sweet of The World Can’t Wait (and on Debra’s own site) and on Democratic Underground, was mentioned on The Guantánamo Blog, was linked to prominently on the front page of Antiwar.com, and was “Website of the Day” on CounterPunch.

Thanks, everybody!

January 2010

The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity December 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
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Published on Sunday, December 27, 2009 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

Each time the U.S. bombs a new location in the Muslim world, the same pattern emerges.  First, officials from the U.S. or allied governments run to their favorite media outlet to claim — anonymously — that some big, bad, notorious, “top” Al Qaeda leader “may have been” or “likely was” killed in the strike, and this constitutes a “stinging” or “devastating” blow against the Terrorist group.  These compliant media outlets then sensationalistically trumpet that claim as the dominant theme of their “reporting” on the attack, drowning out every other issue. 

As a result, and by design, there is never any debate or discussion over the propriety or wisdom of these strikes.  After all, what sane, rational, Serious person would possibly question a bombing raid or missile strike that “likely” killed a murderous, top Al Qaeda fighter and struck a “devastating blow” to that group’s operationg abilities?   Having the story shaped this way also ensures that there is virtually no attention paid to the resulting civilian casualties (i.e., the slaughter of innocent people); most Americans, especially journalists, have been trained to ignore such deaths as nothing more than justifiable “collateral damage,” especially when a murderous, top Al Qaeda fighter was killed by the bombs (besides, as Alan Dershowitz once explained, “civilians” in close enough proximity to a Top Terrorist themselves may very well bear some degree of culpability).  The adolescent We-Got-the-Bad-Guy! headline also ensures there is no attention paid to the radicalizing effect of these civilian deaths and our attacks for that country and in the region.

Yet over and over and over, it turns out that these anonymous government assertions — trumpeted by our mindless media — are completely false.  The Big Bad Guy allegedly killed in the strike ends up nowhere near the bombs and missiles.  Sometimes, the very same Big Bad Guy can be used to justify different strikes over the course of many years (we know we said we killed him four times before, but this time we’re pretty sure we got him), or he can turn up alive when it’s time to re-trumpet the Al Qaeda threat (we said before we killed him in that devastating airstrike, but actually he’s alive and more dangerous than ever!!).  Just like the “we killed 30 extremists” claim or the we got Al Qaeda’s Number 3″ boast, this is propaganda in its purest form, disseminated jointly by the U.S. Government and American media, and it happens over and over, compelling a rational person to conclude that it’s clearly intentional by both parties.

In the last week alone, this pattern just asserted itself — twice — with regard to the air strikes in Yemen.  The first set of strikes, it was immediately leaked, was allegedly aimed atthe presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi,” yet it turned out he was not among the dozens of people killed, though “U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies [unnamed] may have been killed.”  Then, after a second set of strikes on Thursday, it was claimed that “a Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branch,” and an American Muslim preacher linked to Nidal Hasan, “the man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base [Anwar al-Awlaki] may also have died.”  

But while ABC News had identified “the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen” as “Qaaim al-Raymi” when he was the target of last week’s strikes, Reuters decided that the “top two leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branch” were completely different people — “Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri” — and then excitedly announced that they “may have been killed” by this week’s air strikes.  Whoever we claim we kill is the “key leader of Al Qaeda’s operations”– and it can change from day to day.  And now, it turns out, the “radical cleric” who reportedly spoke at length with the accused Fort Hood shooter and thus packs the most emotional punch for Americans is not dead at all, but “is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts.”

Just watch how this obvious propaganda tactic works again and again:

Last week’s Yemen strike – ABC News, December 18, 2009:

The presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi, has frequently appeared on internet videos, . . . Qaaim al-Raymi was considered a prime target of the attack Thursday but was reported to have escaped the attack. However, U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies may have been killed.

This week’s air strikes in Yemen, Reuters, December 24, 2009:

A Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branch on Thursday, and an American Muslim preacher linked to the man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base may also have died, a Yemeni security official said. Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri, were believed to be among more than 30 militants killed in the dawn operation in the eastern province of Shabwa, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may also have died in the air strike which targeted a meeting of militants planning attacks on Yemeni and foreign oil and economic targets, he said. If all the deaths are confirmed, the air strike would appear to have struck a severe blow against AQAP, seen as the most dangerous regional offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s network.

False – Associated Press, December 25, 2009:

A U.S.-born radical cleric is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts . . .

In addition to al-Awlaki, the top leader of al-Qaida’s branch in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, and his deputy Saeed al-Shihri were also believed to be at the meeting, Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee said. But Yemeni officials still have no access to the area, which is controlled by armed gunmen and supporters of al-Qaida, and could not confirm for certain who was killed in the attack.

______________

CNN – January, 2006 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan:

Ayman al-Zawahiri — Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in the al Qaeda terrorist network — was the target of a CIA airstrike Friday in a remote Pakistani village and may have been among those killed, knowledgeable U.S. sources told CNN. . . . the sources said there was intelligence suggesting he was in one of the buildings hit during the strike.

False – Fox News, January 31, 2006 – “Zawahiri, in New Videotape, Says He Survived Airstrike:

Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a videotape aired Monday that President Bush was a “butcher” and a “failure” because of a deadly U.S. airstrike in Pakistan targeting the bin Laden deputy, and he threatened a new attack on the United States. A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy, said there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the tape.

_____________

CBS News, July, 2008 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan:

Ayman al-Zawahiri – the second most powerful leader in al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden’s No. 2 – may be critically wounded and possibly dead, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports exclusively. . . . CBS News has obtained a copy of an intercepted letter from sources in Pakistan, which urgently requests a doctor to treat al-Zawahiri. . . . The letter is dated July 29 – one day after a U.S. air strike that killed al Qaeda weapons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri, and five other Arabs in South Waziristan. . . . a counter-intelligence expert and other U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News that the U.S. is looking into reports that al-Zawahiri is dead.

False – NY Daily News, April 30, 2009 – “Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri calls the shots, says State Department”:

Al Qaeda’s No. 2 thug has “emerged” as its operational leader after seven years on the run with the same $25 million bounty on his head as Osama Bin Laden. Despite years of Bush administration claims that Ayman al-Zawahiri – an Egyptian doctor turned Bin Laden deputy – was on the lam with his boss and unable to exert control, the opposite is now true, a State Department report said Thursday. . . .”Although Bin Laden remains the group’s ideological figurehead, Zawahiri has emerged as Al Qaeda’s strategic and operational planner,” the report added.

 ________________

January, 2006 missile strike in Pakistan, New York Times:

Two senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of its No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were among those killed in the American airstrikes in remote northeastern Pakistan last week, two Pakistani officials said here on Wednesday. . . .If any or all were indeed killed, it would be a stinging blow to Al Qaeda’s operations, said the American officials, who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized by their agencies to speak for attribution. . . . The airstrikes, which killed 18 civilians, among them women and children, have caused anger across the country . . . At least one of the men believed by the Pakistani officials to have been killed, an Egyptian known here as Abu Khabab al-Masri, is on the United States’ most-wanted list with a $5 million reward for help in his capture. His real name is Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, 52, who according to the United States government Web site rewardsforjustice.net, was an expert in explosives and poisons. . . . The target of the raid, American officials have said, was Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Mr. Zawahiri, but they have acknowledged that he was not killed in the attack and Pakistani officials say that Mr. Zawahiri failed to show up for the dinner that night.

January, 2006 missile strike in Pakistan, ABC News:

ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda’s master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week’s U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan. Midhat Mursi, 52, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, was identified by Pakistani authorities as one of four known major al Qaeda leaders present at an apparent terror summit in the village of Damadola early last Friday morning. 

False —  LA Times, February 3, 2008:

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials now believe that the Egyptian, Abu Khabab Masri, is alive and well — and in charge of resurrecting Al Qaeda’s program to develop or obtain weapons of mass destruction.

 ____________

January, 2006 airstrike in Pakistan, New York Times:

Another Egyptian, known by the alias Abu Ubayda al-Misri, was also believed killed, the Pakistani officials said. He was the chief of insurgent operations in the southern Afghan province of Kunar, which borders Bajaur in Pakistan, the area where the airstrikes occurred, according to one of the Pakistani officials.

False – Fox News, April 9, 2008:

Abu Ubaida al-Masri, one of Al Qaeda’s top operatives and the mastermind behind a plot to use liquid explosives to blow British passenger jets out of the sky, is dead, a U.S. official confirmed to FOX News Wednesday.  The unidentified official said it is believed that al-Masri died of natural causes, possibly hepatitis, in Pakistan, and are staying away from a report that he was killed in a January CIA predator strike.

 ______________

Summer, 2008 Predator strikes in Pakistan, Telegraph – “Al-Qa’eda’s American-born propaganda chief may have died in predator attack”:

Months of attacks by unmanned US predator aircraft have caused carnage among the middle ranks of terrorist leaders in the lawless lands along the border with Afghanistan . . . Their victims have included experienced Arab leaders and, it is now thought, Adam Gadahn, a former heavy-metal fan and so-called “killer computer nerd” originally from California. Nothing has been heard from him for months, leading intelligence experts to conclude that he may be dead.

False — LA Times, June 14, 2009:

Adam Gadahn, a Southern California-raised man self-described as American Al Qaeda has released a new video in which he talks about his Jewish ancestry.

______________

July, 2009 airstrike in Pakistan, Fox News:

U.S. officials believe Usama bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan. Sources confirmed to FOX News late Wednesday that officials believe the younger bin Laden was killed by hellfire missiles from a U.S. Predator drone strike earlier this year.

Highly questionable – Middle East News:

A close friend of Osama bin Laden told Al Arabiya that he thought the al-Qaeda mastermind’s son was probably still alive casting doubt on reports by American media that he was killed in Pakistan. Yemeni national Rashad Saied, who stayed with bin Laden in Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001 attacks, said there is no proof to U.S. media reports last week that Saad bin Laden was killed in an American airstrike on Pakistan earlier this year.  “If Saad had been killed, al-Qaeda would have announced that,” Saied told Al Arabiya. “They announced the death of many key figures in the organization before. It is considered a source of pride for them.”

New York Times, December 23, 2009:

A teenage daughter of Osama bin Laden, who has lived with at least five of her siblings in a guarded compound in Iran since 2001, took refuge last month in the Saudi Embassy in Tehran . . . The status of another son, Saad, remained uncertain. American officials said last summer that they believed that Saad bin Laden had traveled from Iran to Pakistan and had been killed by an American missile fired from a drone. Omar and Zaina bin Laden said Saad was still in the Tehran compound when the missile attack was said to have occurred, but they said that they did not know where he was now or whether he was still alive.

_____________

I could literally spend the rest of the day chronicling events very similar to these.  A few caveats are in order.  It’s not surprising that facts are sometimes difficult to obtain in the immediate aftermath of a strike, particularly in remote areas such as Western Pakistan and Yemen.  Sometimes, these air strikes do actually result in the death of the specific targets alleged to lead various Islamic radical groups

But far more often, these boasting claims regarding a controversial U.S. air attack or missile strike turn out to be completely false.  It’s painfully obvious that these assertions are made to overwhelm, distort and suppress any discussions of the actual effects of the attack — who the strike really killed, whether it was justified, legal or wise, whether we should continue to drop bombs in more and more Muslim countries.  Yet no matter how many times these claims prove to be false, American media outlets not only dutifully and mindlessly print them without challenge or skepticism, but also allow these claims to dictate their headlines and the overwhelming focus of their “reporting” on the attacks (U.S. Air Strike Said to Kill Top Al Qaeda Leaders).  As a result, Americans are innundated with false claims about things that never actually happened — pure myths and falsehoods — while the actual consequences of our actions (the corpses of innocent Muslim men, women and children being pulled from the rubble) are widely disseminated in the Muslim world, yet are barely mentioned by our media.  And then we walk around, confounded and confused, about how there could be such a grave disparity in perception among our rational, free and well-informed selves versus those irrational, mislead, paranoid, and primitive Muslims.

Because it’s all done under the corrupt cover of anonymity, there’s never any accountability (reporters will simply say that they printed this because their government sources whispered it in their ears — so what choice did they have? — and they’ll keep the government officials’ identity concealed to ensure they can never be questioned).  The whole process is blatantly designed not to convey what happened, but to obscure what happened and to prevent any discussion of its consequences.

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.